There is no escaping the fact that more and more people are addicted to being online, or at least be contactable and to contact others. The term ‘addicted’ may not be fair, but so many people rely on communications for social, family and business reasons. Just look at most people on a plane just before take-off or after landing! While in Europe many telecommunication providers offer free or cheap data roaming, in Asia it’s not the same. Travellers prefer to use public or hotel Wi-Fi until they can buy a local sim card. Also in Asia, several phone models can accept 2 or more sim cards at the same time, meaning that travellers can keep their home-based sim while using the other sim for data. Foreigners buying Thai sim cards to use at Similan Islands need to know a few basic facts before trying to connect to the internet on a dive boat, or elsewhere in Thailand.
Buying a SIM card in Thailand
This is really easy. You can go into almost any 7Eleven convenience store and buy a Thai Sim card. However, for security reasons they ask for official ID. Thais must use their National Identity Cards, and foreigners must use a passport. This is not the rules of 7Eleven, so don’t complain to the staff or ask for special treatment. This is a national law after insurgents used to use mobile phones to detonate bombs remotely.
How much is it?
Prices vary depending on the provider and the package that you buy. But they are very cheap and your data can last a long time if you don’t waste it watching videos and downloading. About $15 USD is normally enough to buy a new SIM card with enough call and data credit to give you a week’s use in Thailand.
Which one is the best?
This is a debatable question, but for travellers who plan to go out to the Similan Islands, it’s quite easy to narrow down to two of Thailand’s four main providers. The four main providers are AIS, True, DTAC and Hutch. Hutch is not very popular, so forget about them. True is owned by the same company as 7Eleven, and the coverage on land is excellent, as are the promotions. However from experience, we find that the True signal is non-existent out at sea. Therefore, we recommend AIS & DTAC equally.
Will I get a signal out at sea?
Yes, and no. in recent seasons DTAC and AIS have enjoyed some service at the Similans, but once you go north to Koh Bon & Koh Tachai, the signal fades away. Richelieu Rock is out in the middle of the sea, so don’t expect a signal at all there.
How do I top up my Thai SIM card?
You need to do this on land, as there are no shops out at sea. Normally, people just go into a convenience store to top up SIM credit. However, we have noticed that recently some cards (AIS I think) can’t be topped up in 7Eleven, but there are machines outside each shop that can be used to top up.
Is it worth it?
For some people, it’s nice to get away from the internet and phone calls for a couple of days, but others can’t be offline or out of range for more than a few hours. The price is very reasonable, and the coverage is patchy at sea. Therefore, some people may think that it’s not worth spending money on something that can’t be used all the time. Others are very happy to pay the small fee to be able to get online or make calls for some of their Similan diving liveaboard trip, and all of the rest of their holiday in Thailand.